A suicide bomber rushed into a neighborhood celebration for a man who had just been released from detention Sunday night, detonating his explosives and killing at least 25 other people, police said.
Also Sunday, the military announced the arrest of a key Al Qaeda in Iraq figure believed to have planned the abduction of U.S. journalist Jill Carroll in 2006. In a statement, the military said Salim Abdallah Ashur Shujayri, also known as Abu Uthman, is a Baghdad leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq who oversaw some of the group’s most heinous activities.
The suicide attack occurred about 18 miles west of Baghdad in the suburb of Abu Ghraib, a mainly Sunni Muslim area. It was one of several attacks that left about 40 people dead and underscored the threat still posed by insurgents despite improved security nationwide.
“Out of the blue, a very loud blast occurred,” said Hameed Salim, a farmer who said the father of the released detainee threw the party to celebrate his return earlier in the day. It was not clear why the son had been held. “We had a celebration in the neighborhood, and you could see the scenes of festivity everywhere,” he said.
The bomber struck about 9 p.m. as people ate and danced, plunging the celebration into darkness and chaos.
“All I could hear were screams and shouts,” said Salim, who was not badly injured. “People thought that I was injured because I was covered with blood, but it wasn’t from my injuries. It was of others. Only God saved me.”
A police official from the nearby city of Fallouja, Dawood Suleiman, said many of the survivors were critically injured. It was not known whether the dead included the released detainee or his father.
Sunni insurgents often target fellow Sunnis if they are seen as supporters of U.S. forces or of the Iraqi government or if they are involved in the Sons of Iraq security force funded by the U.S. military.
Guests at the party included police and military officials, along with people associated with the Sons of Iraq.
In Baghdad, the military said U.S. forces were led to Shujayri on Aug. 11 after arresting a senior leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. That suspect led troops to a Shujayri associate who eventually turned him in.
Shujayri’s associates are said to have included Al Qaeda in Iraq members involved in the 2004 abduction of Margaret Hassan, the head of Care International in Iraq. She was found slain in November 2004.
Carroll, a freelancer for the Christian Science Monitor, was kidnapped in January 2006 and freed 82 days later.
Shujayri is the second high-ranking Al Qaeda in Iraq figure believed tied to Carroll’s abduction to be captured or killed. In May 2007, U.S. forces killed the group’s chief propagandist, who was described as a key player in the abduction of Carroll and of peace activist Tom Fox. Fox was kidnapped in November 2005 and found dead the following March.
Violence has declined nationwide in recent months, but deaths still occur daily from attacks tied to sectarian and political rivalries. On Sunday, at least 14 people died in addition to those slain in the Abu Ghraib attack.
A pair of roadside bombs detonated minutes apart in Baghdad, killing three people. One bomb exploded on a busy street, apparently aimed at a police vehicle. Minutes later, another bomb went off, targeting people who had gathered at the scene, including police responding to the first attack.
Iraqi police said three people died. U.S. officials put the death toll at two.
Three men were killed when a bomb hidden in a pile of hay exploded as a group of farmers headed into their fields southeast of Baghdad before dawn.
Three separate attacks in Diyala province killed nine people, police said.
Special correspondents in Basra, Diyala and Baghdad contributed to this report.